Director Vikram Kumar is an interviewer’s delight. His immense passion for the craft and the indefatigable spirit with which he articulates some of the intriguing behind-the-scenes happenings of the film left me in amazement. In this interview with Only Kollywood, he talks in detail about his forthcoming release ’24’, Suriya’s tireless dedication, Samantha’s terrific sense of humor, Nithya Menen’s individuality and his future projects including a dream animation subject.
Time travel as a genre has been done to death in Hollywood. So, how is 24 going to be different?
“Initially, I wanted to do a sci-fi film. God has given us everything, but the ability to control ‘time’ is not in our hands. Time-travel is an exciting sub-genre in science fiction and as a concept, I love it. I wanted my film to be an original narrative. There will be a new element in the script, which others haven’t explored in time travel subjects yet,” says Vikram.
The most common complaint from cineastes when it comes to sci-fi films is the complex concepts used in storytelling. “Simplification of story-telling is the toughest task. It’s so easy to tell that you’re intelligent. ‘Purinja Paarunga, Puriyalana Ponganu Solrathu Romba Easy.’ To get a six-year-old to watch your film in theater and to entertain him is the difficult thing. How do we get that kid to understand your story? How do we make it accessible without losing any intelligence? You cannot dumb it down too much also that it looks spoonfed,” explains Vikram.
“You should have a good balance. Everyone should be able to comprehend your story. Whether they like it or not comes next. The audiences should be challenged and have to enjoy the twists. Their intelligence should be tested. That’s the real success. And, 24 has been done this way. Even a six-year-old will understand the script. There is some smartness in the narration too. A lot of the time you will not know where the story is heading towards and the screenplay will take a deviation at important junctures, much to the surprise of viewers.”
Suriya’s tireless dedication and the laborious make-up
“24 could have been a very stressful project for me, if I hadn’t got Suriya sir as an actor or producer for the film. He is long-known for his dedication and homework to prep for a role. One of the characters he plays in the film is a watch mechanic. So, everyday when we were shooting the movie, there was a watch mechanic on location. Suriya sir learnt the nuances and keenly observed the body language of the watch mechanic to portray it authentically on screen. When it came to playing a paraplegic, he recorded videos of paraplegics and watched it attentively to learn their behavioural traits. He had the wheelchair in his home. He used to rehearse, send me videos on WhatsApp and ask for my opinion.”
“Another fine example of Suriya’s dedication is the laborious make-up for one of the roles. We were shooting in summer and sweat will spoil the makeup on face. So, our make-up artists kept a sachet (near his thigh), which will collect all the sweat deposits on the forehead via a tube. I was stunned to see him swap sachets shot after shot once they get filled to the brim . After the shot gets done, he used to coolly engage in a chat with the crew. Primarily, he decides the energy of my set. If you have a happy star, you have a happy set. Sir made the film stressless. It could have been a strenuous film. But he just made it such a joy.”
“24 is primarily an antagonist film”
“To portray someone who is very wicked, evil and smart, Suriya sir has done a fantastic job with Aathreya. 24 is primarily an antagonist film. It’s not a protagonist film. The journey of the villain is what 24 is all about. Aathreya is the most important person in the story. ’24’ can be done even without the hero character, but not without Aathreya.”
The ingenious production design in ’24’
Director Vikram Kumar takes delight in throwing light on the ingenious production design that went behind the making of ’24’. “Apart from the narrative, props take the movie forward in ’24’. One of the most important things in the story is the props. And, you can’t get these props anywhere outside. It has to be made. It’s not like creating a drawing room or a beautiful garden. Production design in ’24’ demanded much more than that. We conceptualized everything. We created things. Art directors Amit and Subrata worked with me in ‘Yaavarum Nalam’. Now, they have worked in all Vishal Bharadwaj’s projects. When I narrated the script of 24, which is a production design-driven story, they were quite excited about how much they could contribute to the film. When we were shooting in Mumbai’s Filmistaan Studios, Amit took me to a godown, which was located beside our sets. Inside the shed, there were more than fifty engineering students working on machines and various instruments. They were all handpicked students from engineering colleges. So, we actually made moving things. It was amazing to witness.”
“There is a scene in the script when Sethuraman (a scientist role played by Suriya) looks up and sees the entire laboratory coming alive. I told Amit that this scene will not be conceived in visual effects. I told, ‘I want to see the entire lab come alive’. So, they took it up as a challenge. And once everything was set, he called me in. He asked his assistant to put on a switch. The entire laboratory came alive and left me dumbstruck. These are the people who made 24. I could not have done the film without Amit and Subrata. They are highly talented and very creative. The aesthetics we have created and the kind of props used in the film will stand testimony to their genius.”
Vikram Kumar, who has teamed up with Samantha for the second consecutive time after Manam, lauds her humor sense. “Firstly, Samantha is a wonderful actor and she had done a great job in ‘Manam’. She has got a very good comedy timing. No one has exactly used that potential of Samantha fully yet. She’s got a really good sense of humor. She is strikingly beautiful and more importantly, she is a team player,” he says.
“There is a wonderful vulnerability in Nithya that filmmakers can exploit in storytelling”
Vikram Kumar shares a great rapport with Nithya Menen, who heard the script of 24 during the ‘Ishq‘ time itself. “Nithya is one of the best actors in this generation. She is highly under-rated. I don’t think she wants to be rated. She doesn’t care. She is a strong-willed, independent and smart woman. She has her own style and individuality. She doesn’t really care about how much screen-time her character has in the script. For Nithya, it’s not about doing a big hero movie or a big budget film. She needs to be excited about the character. That’s all she looks for. If she feels cool and excited about her role, she will do it. She is a gifted girl and sings so beautifully. There is a wonderful vulnerability in Nithya that filmmakers can exploit in storytelling.”
Vikram Kumar’s next is a medical thriller with Allu Arjun, which will go on the floors as soon as the latter completes his already-announced project with director Lingusamy. “I have also narrated an idea to Mahesh Babu but the script needs to be completed. It’s still in the very nascent stage. It’s an approved idea. So that might follow Allu Arjun’s movie,” reveals Vikram.
Sequels to 13B/Yaavarum Nalam
“13C and 13D were already written. I penned it as a trilogy. I didn’t want to direct horror films back to back. Now, I want to get back to those scripts. It was written to be told as a three-part film. I’m not sure when it will materialize though. I need to call up Maddy and find out if he’ll be interested to do it. Maddy knows the broad idea of 13C and 13D, but not heard the detailed screenplay yet,” Vikram says.
“I’m also working on a sports-centric film. I have completed 60% of the script. It’s a very exciting genre and it has become mainstream now. There’s so much of drama, emotions and heroism in sports-based films. There’s also the underdog angle. The rise of an underdog is a very relatable and time-tested winning formula. It’s a genre I want to work on someday.”
The Dream Animation Project
“There’s an animation script that I’m writing. I have written about 40% of the story. It’s my dream project. I think it will take another two years to finish writing the script. Once I complete, I want to approach Disney or an established studio who has already got a strong foothold in animation. A live-action film needs three to four drafts. I think animation films need a minimum of ten drafts to arrive at a final outcome.”
Interviewed by Surendhar MK